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Irish start for Tour de France: Cycling

The Tour de France will start in Ireland next year. The event's director, Jean Marie Leblanc, and the Irish sports minister, Enda Kenny, are to sign an official agreement in Dublin today to begin the tour on Irish soil.

International contestants will begin the race on the weekend of 12 July, later than usual to avoid clashing with football's World Cup finals, being staged in France in 1998.

The decision to start the 1998 Tour de France in the Republic follows years of lobbying by the Dublin government and sports fans in Ireland. Campaigning for the development dates back to the 1987 Tour de France victory of the Irish rider Stephen Roche, and the international success around the same period of his compatriot Sean Kelly.

Kelly, the 1988 Tour of Spain winner and world champion, said: "This is a wonderful achievement. It's the first time the start of the race has been off the European mainland. It is unbelievable to think they have got it over here. As a sports event the Tour is huge, and has to be seen to be believed."

Details of the Irish dimension, including the route through the country, have still to be disclosed. But the race is expected to make its exit from Ireland through Cork, which has a direct ferry link with the with French ports of Cherbourg and Le Havre.

Unfortunately for the Irish, and despite the previous world-ranking performances of Roche and Kelly, no cyclist from Ireland is likely to feature in the Tour.

Kelly added: "It would have been great for it to come here when Stephen and I were competing, but that just did not happen. It is surprising we have not got anybody competing at Tour de France level at the moment.

"It will be a huge task for Ireland to stage it."